“The society that separates scholars from its warriors will have its thinking done by cowards and its fighting done by fools.” – Thucydides
A while back, a reader asked me a rather interesting question. Seeing how you will be confronted by people who test your tolerance every day, people that will push you to your limits, at what point do you have to consider that you must stop being a gentleman? I was immediately reminded of the story of a WWII German Ace who refused to shoot down a damaged Allied Plane. Many years after the war, when asked why he didn’t shoot down his enemy, Franz Stigler said “You follow the rules of war for you – not for your enemy. You fight by rules to keep your humanity”.
So, my reply to the question at hand was “never”. As soon as we stop being a Gentleman, and we give into our most base and primal condition, we stop being human or we stop having a true reason why we fight. We have to be warriors who understand the consequences of combat and scholars who can figure out a better solution. That is what it means to be a Gentleman.
As the world moved towards a more “specialized” oriented society, men were divided into two distinct and opposing groups, the Dumb Jock or the Wimpy Nerd. Physical discipline and intellectual development became exclusive of each other – this was not always the case though. Since ancient history, most civilized societies understood the importance for their elite warriors to become educated members of society, as well as having their educated elite train in combat arts. This way they would better understand why they are obligated to fight and what a fighting man was capable of doing.
The samurai were known just as skilled in art as they were with a sword; an ideal known as Bun Bu Ryo Do, literally meaning “literary arts, military arts, both ways”, or more loosely to “The pen and the sword in accord”. They apply the same dedication to Ikebana (floral arrangement) as they would to Kyudo (Archery). This dedication to art, literature, and martial training was not exclusive to Japan, but rather a common aspect in most societies. In old Ireland, you couldn’t be a great warrior unless you played the harp and mastered fidchell, an ancient Irish board game somewhat similar to chess. Norsemen got great social recognition for being good skalds as well as warriors. The medieval knights of Europe were expected to be skilled at poetry, chess, and dancing, as well as following a strict code of chivalry.
A surprising example, one that not so many people consider, is how all Greek men had to serve as warriors. That means all those old philosophers and playwrights survived into old age a previous military career in a time of constant Wars. The gravestones of many of these ancient thinkers spend more time talking about their military success than they do about their literary works. The image we have of the “Old Philosopher” changes when we consider that Socrates could probably best most of us in combat.
We see this repeated time and time again. The oldest book in constant publication, The Art of War, is attributed to the mercenary general Sun Tzu, while Julius Caesar, one of the greatest military geniuses in history, was also a great prose writer and poet. We still see Emperor Marcus Aurelius quotes pop up in motivational memes all over the internet. Miguel de Cervantes, the author of Don Quixote, and Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Company (as in military Company) of Jesus (The Jesuits), were both former soldiers. In more recent times, and more recent wars, leaders like George Patton and Winston Churchill were known, past their Military successes, for their endeavors in the literary arts.
Nowadays, the contemporary Warrior-Scholar is developed by overcoming their own personal combat and social struggles. The martial art’s legend Bruce Lee graduated with a degree in Philosophy and was a talented author, poet, and artist. Muhammad Ali would sometimes write poems before going into the ring. Tupac Shakur and other modern poets were influenced by the urban violence that surrounded them every day and the struggles they endured just to survive the everyday.
Maybe it’s their personal experience with combat, war, hell (physical, mental, or emotional), and death that makes these Warrior-Scholars value life even more than ordinary men. Ironically this same value of life makes them accept their obligation to fight, and even die, for their ideals. Experiencing death and the horrors of war makes a man contemplate the big questions of life, “What is worth living for, and what is worth dying for?”
It also develops a rather rigid discipline of self. This personal control and development is at its most evident when you realize that most modern requirements of etiquette and manners were developed by the Warrior-Scholar class as a way to create order within the chaos of life. Yes, the first Ms. Manners were the men tasked with killing other men.
Just remember, as a Gentleman, you must strive to go beyond a suit and good manners; you have to be a warrior and a scholar as well. Be forged in fire and tempered by knowledge. If not, you will lack the courage to fight for your ideals or lack the ideals worth fighting for.